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At our Spring Training session this last week, we thought about how we are called to relate to people with whom we disagree on fundamental issues, or to people who are very different from us. I played two video clips for the group:
1. The first was part of an interview with Father Richard Rohr, Catholic priest and author, on the subject of dualistic thinking. He explained how, as our brains develop from an early age, we understand reality in terms of extremes – short or tall, young or old, etc. Later, we begin to realise that not all of reality can be described in extreme terms – not everything is black or white. But Rohr says we still have a tendency to look at everything that is known to us, familiar and unthreatening and call that ‘true’ and everything that is unknown, unfamiliar or threatening is ‘false’. We have to unlearn our tendency to pigeon-hole people and ideas based on that false dualism. We then considered how that kind of attitude might shape the way that we read the Bible. Is it possible that in reading Scripture we will readily take in that which is consistent with our view of how things are, which fits with our deep-seated beliefs (or even prejudices) but subconsciously filter out anything that doesn’t fit, or that we find threatening. Don’t we do this with people too – we are fearful of those who are different from us – different race, language, sexual orientation? It’s universal – how else do we explain a crazy phenomenon like xenophobia?
2. The second clip was part of a sermon preached by Rev Alan Storey at Duke University in the USA. He describes the same phenomenon in Luke 8 – the way the religious community in Jesus’ day condemned the “others” - those people who are ‘not like us’, who are impure (and who therefore deserve of the wrath of God). Controversially, Jesus gets in a boat, crosses the Sea of Galilee and goes with compassion on a healing mission into the Gentile region known as the Gerasenes – that ‘other place’. He goes in God’s name to offer love and healing and acceptance to a community written off by religious people.
What might it look like for us to get in a boat with Jesus and go in a spirit of humble non-judgmentalism to the other side?